Law in Contemporary Society

Learning Who I Don't Want to Be

-- By VendarrylJenkins - 27 Apr 2018

Conversation That Got the Wheels Turning

The lawyer, and more importantly the person that I want to be is mostly informed in contrast to where I am presently. That pointed realization flooded my mind as a result of a conversation with my brother. He asked me, “at which point in the past few years were you the best version of yourself?” I replied that I was the best version of myself right now, accepting as the gospel my dad’s saying, that each phase of life should be better than the last. Unapologetically my brother quipped, “well damn, I clearly didn’t realize how much you sucked before.”

Failing to Be Present in Important Relationships and Correcting the Pattern

My brother’s dig was an expression of his anger and frustration with me for one reason: I had failed to be present. But, the truth is that I continue to fail to be present in my life—a life of family, friends, romantic relationships, hobbies and simple joys. I am in law school—I say it as though it validates my neglect of both myself and others. In these past months, my orbit of cares rotates from JG 101 to 105 and check-ins at Big Warren every so often. It should have clicked that I needed to check back into life when I received six calls from a childhood friend one night. I ignored them because I was too busy being a Columbia law student, and he, like everyone else could wait. When I finally returned his call, I learned that he had drowned, been resuscitated, was in the hospital, had failed out of a competitive program, and he needed his friend. But, I was unavailable because I had a brief to finish. The list of times I failed to be present this year is exhaustive. But, for every friend I lost, I reminded myself that this is a temporary sacrifice to achieve my goal of stability.

However, today I think I am realizing that it may not be temporary. There will always be an excuse to abdicate agency of my life so long as I practice law and deceive myself into thinking law will be my source of stability. My brother made it clear to me, the law is not enough. It does not provide the security I need. It undoubtedly brings me less joy, laughter, and fulfillment than the beautiful collection of people for whom I have failed to be present on this journey so far. So, if I become a lawyer I want to be an active participant in the lives of those I care about.

Value in Self

As I move forward, I have to be present to care for others, but ultimately, I must make time to care for myself. In this past year I have rarely stopped to stand in the moment at hand to check on how I was doing. The world of law school went from deadline to deadline: applications, elections, interviews, exams, repeat. At every stage of the process I was looking to the next rung I had to climb. I didn’t stop to appreciate success, and I didn’t have time to reflect on why I might have experienced some failures. I have not been present enough in the moment to provide a space for introspection, or growth or even to take a moment to define what my goals are. Instead, I’ve developed insomnia and look in the mirror disappointed with my physical health. I stopped working out, stopped taking walks to think, and I haven’t sat in a coffee shop to read a book for amusement since I began law school. I stopped investing in the healthy habits that I loved, because my time was dedicated to a future happiness by obtaining some amorphous future goal. So far, the worst part of law school is that I don’t have a bar of personal contentment because I have become dependent on external validation. It is an addiction that never allows me to say, I am satisfied. I am no longer motivated by an internal thrust to achieve. Instead I am chasing the nearest congratulations. Moving forward, I don’t want to be a lawyer that allows law and its culture to come at the expense of self. So, today I went out and enjoyed the sun, had lunch with a friend to share some laughs, and even dared to have a drink during the exam study period.

I Found a Reason to Stay Here: I Found the Thing I Could Do All Day

In spite of the deleterious effects law school has had on me, an assertion my brother has confirmed, there was one experience that made me plant the flag to stay for sure. An acquaintance, that has now become a friend, asked for my help. He found himself in trouble at his university with the probable result of expulsion. In short, we worked together to draft an appeal of his original sanction. I found myself applying the exact material covered in my criminal law class to mount his defense. A light bulb lit up and could not be turned off. I worked, and researched, and wrote, because I knew that I could help him—I could save his academic career. We did it. We succeeded in overturning his original sanction. In that moment I realized that law school had helped me make a difference in a fellow Black man’s life, and that felt damn good. I’m not going anywhere because I want to help others in a similar fashion. I was reaffirmed in my decision to come to law school and reaffirmed that there was some fulfillment in the practice of law. As Moglen advised, I found something I could do all day. I want to point my career in the direction of helping those who are the victims of a sometimes overly harsh criminal justice system.


I want to be the type of lawyer than can analyze who I am, understand where I want to be, and ensure the law is not a blindfold that disables me from being present. Instead it should add a dimension to my fulfillment.

I think this is a good first draft: it gets the issues out. To make it better, I think, there are two primary routes: condense the base, and build up at the top.

Like most law students, you responded to the totalizing quality of the first year of law school by allowing the routine to take over. You lost connection to other people outside that process. This had little to do with you, personally: it happens to nearly everybody. That it did happen to you was important and it should be written about, but you can avoid an exhaustive retelling of every detail (that's the right use of the word): the part the reader needs can be put in a few sentences.

At the top of the construction, where your plans for your practice are involved, on the other hand, improvement means more detail. What have you discovered about what you want to do all day? For what kind of practice should you be preparing yourself, and what would be the right steps to do so? Having gained insight, which you unquestionably have, we want the writing to put the insight to work. You may well, almost certainly will, change your new conclusions about what you want to do in your practice, but learning how to think specifically about that, and to take active control of your education in order to achieve the objectives you've defined, is invaluable.

We are, in short, moving from a draft about who not to be, to a draft about who you intend to become. The first draft makes the second possible. You will be very glad, I think, to have written it.

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r2 - 29 May 2018 - 12:09:43 - EbenMoglen
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